Islamic dress has been quite the hot topic across Europe in recent times.
Just last month the German parliament voted in support of a draft law banning women working in certain industries from wearing the burqa and niqab and Dutch MPs voted for a similar prohibition in the Netherlands last year.
And the President of Austria has stirred things up again as he called for all women to wear headscarves in solidarity with Muslims to fight ‘rampant Islamophobia’. His words came just months after the Austrian government banned the full-face veil in public spaces, as part of an attempt to counter the rise of the far-right Freedom Party.
Left wing Alexander Van der Bellen, who only just beat a far-right candidate to take office at the start of the year, said freedom of expression was a fundamental right.
Speaking to an audience of school pupils he said: “It is every woman’s right to always dress how she wants.
“And it is not only Muslim women, all women can wear a headscarf, and if this real and rampant Islamophobia continues, there will come a date where we must ask all women to wear a headscarf, all, out of solidarity to those who do it for religious reasons.”
President Van der Bellen suggested the action to defy fascists and stand strong with Muslim citizens while responding to a question from a schoolgirl. She had argued that a ban on Islamic headscarves or veils would reduce women to their appearance rather than achievements and shut some out of the labour market.
While many Muslims welcomed the president’s words, Saudi-based Ain Ul-Khalil says, though a great gesture, it would only prove useful if women wanted to wear them.
She says: “I feel, being a Muslim myself, it’s nice to see a non-Muslim having a positive attitude towards us and not judging us on the negative false news which is so widely spread. However, it would only be OK if he suggested his citizens wear it not commanded. If it’s still on the citizens to decide, it’s fine. We Muslims are never forced to wear the hijab and we are also free to choose what we want to wear.”
Ain believes President Van der Bellen encouraging his electorate to wear the hijab in solidarity could help them to ‘look into the real world of Muslims’.
Indeed, just a couple of years ago Christian mum-of-two Jessey Eagan decided to wear a hijab for 40 days to remind herself what it felt like ‘to be an outsider’ in her native America. After spending some time living in Jordan teaching at an Islamic school, she said she ‘stuck out like a sore thumb’ and wanted to remind herself what it felt like to be an outsider so that she could better love all people ‘no matter what they look like.’ Wearing the hijab in her home town of Illinois she said it opened her eyes to how outsiders are treated.
Dubai-based Muslim, Dalal believes wearing traditional dress is a good way for non-Muslims to see life through the eyes of others. However, she believes education as to why Muslim women wear certain garments would be key to getting the most from the experience.
She says: “The best part about wearing hijab is the beauty of obeying your creator, the expectation of a reward from ones’ lord and knowing that you follow the example of righteous women in history.
“I think it’s a great idea for non-Muslims to wear hijabs for a day in solidarity with Muslim women but I don’t think they will enjoy the experience of it as much as Muslim women do because they will be missing out on the spiritual aspect of it.”